Thursday, April 26, 2007

Overlooked Report #1

Wednesday, April 25 marked the opening day of Roger Ebert’s 9th Annual Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Ill. It also marks my 3rd annual absence from the event, which I once promised I would never miss. This year’s excuse, I was in the hospital with a herniated disk when the passes sold out in a record two weeks of sales. Not to mention the fact that at that time I had no idea of what my financial, or even work, status would be when April rolled around.

Although, I am not there in body, as always my spirit is in attendance; and as has become my custom to try to replicate the experience in my own home, I have designed my own Overlooked Film Festival to enjoy throughout the month of April in the darkness of my basement. Over the past few weeks, with the help of Netflix, I have watched several films that are also on Ebert’s Overlooked schedule. For those films that are unavailable for home entertainment, I have come up with related replacements to fill in the gaps.

Ebert once again has culled together an incredible array of films that touch upon a wide range of subject matter and genre; from sci-fi noir, to music documentary, female circumcision to Southern hospitality, prostitutes making good to just living the sweet life. Even aroma inspired killers and underachieving weather men make it into the mix. The Overlooked has a little bit of everything, and all of it is the best that today’s most respected movie critic has seen.

Gattaca. Of course, I’d had plenty of time to accept that I would not be attending this year’s festival by the time Ebert finally announced his films in late March; but I could not have been more disappointed in my imminent absence as I was when I discovered that the opening film would be one that I consider to be one of the most overlooked films of the ‘90’s, Andrew Niccol’s debut sci-fi noir about a future when genetics allows us to customize our children before they are even born, “Gattaca”.

I was lucky enough to see Niccol’s visionary film when it was originally released in theaters, so I have not been deprived of its theatrical experience. However, I never would have guessed at that time that it had been directed by a first time writer/director. It is a movie that is very sure of itself, with a strong vision and an even stronger message.

The story follows Vincent (Ethan Hawke), a man who was not lucky enough to have been born with engineered genes, so he must accept the life of the underprivileged and work as a janitor at a training facility for astronauts being sent to Saturn. But Vincent has devised a plan to fake his identity by using the genetic makeup of Jerome (Jude Law), an engineered athlete who was paralyzed in an accident.

Niccol goes to great lengths to illustrate just how difficult a false identity would be to pull off in a society where an individual’s genetic code defines their standing. Millions of cells are shed from one individual in a single day. Vincent’s dream to fly through space requires extreme sacrifice to achieve from his position.

To go on describing the film, I could not hope to capture the power and scope of this incredibly intelligent film, which epitomizes the somewhat lost art of science fiction, combining genres and style to present a societal commentary that is as important to the age in which it is made as it is to the one which it portrays. But to see this film again, with an appreciative audience, would be one of the finest film experiences any lover of the medium could hope to have.

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